According to 2018 data provided by booking platform Agoda, the top countries visited by Filipinos are: Japan, Hong Kong (China), Thailand, Malaysia, UK, USA, Italy, and France. Because we’re part of ASEAN, we don’t need a visa to enter Hong Kong, Thailand and Malaysia. For the other countries, however, getting a visa can get exhausting, expensive, and tricky. That’s why we all want to get our visa applications approved on the first try.
More travel hacks:
The trouble is the Philippine passport is a weak one, ranking 75th of 199 countries. While we can find the SOP for applying for visas everywhere on the internet, we asked seasoned travelers their secrets to nabbing the coveted visas. Here’s what they shared:
Homeschooling mom Donna Donor travels the world with her son, Kib. She said now is the time to apply for a Japan visa. “These days it is easy to apply because of the upcoming Tokyo Olympics which is less than 500 days away.” She says that big events in a country means the government is spending a lot of money. “It’s easier to apply for a visa because the country needs funds.” So take note of special national events of countries you plan to visit, like royal weddings, coronations, and sports events like the Olympics and World Cup.
Banker Toby Reyes advises that at every consulate, assume that you are “guilty until proven innocent.” “Especially in countries like the US and the UK, especially if you have the profile of someone who might overstay, you have to give evidence that you will come back home. How? Strong ties to the Philippines like you have a permanent job, property, lots of money.”
Toby adds, “I also put into account the culture of the country I’m applying to. The British, for example, are very proper and polite so when I present myself and my documents, I make sure I’m also proper and polite. I even organized my documents in a big binder with every section properly labeled. For example, ‘Bank Statements,’ ‘Proof of Employment,’ ‘Proof of Properties Owned,’ etc. This is not necessary but I believe the Entry Clearance Officer appreciates the care I put into my application and this might help get me a favorable outcome. I always get my UK visa!”
It’s a joke shared among parents that when you apply for a US visa, bring the kids and say the magic words: “We are going to Disneyland!” In case you don’t have kids, you might feel despair knowing that the US visa is one of the hardest visas to get.
Take heart and take note of this important fact: While the UK and many other countries rely on documents to prove your qualification for a visa (you can apply for an Australian visa online, for example), the US bases their decision on their personal interaction with you. How you look, how you talk, and how you answer questions matter more than your documents. You still have to prepare all of the requirements, but these are needed to support your answers in your interview.
Mike Aquino, Tripsavvy.com contributor and travel writer, says that his mindset is to adopt a stoic attitude toward getting on. “Go in already anticipating the worst-case scenario, so rejection is something you already accept and an approved visa is a pleasant bonus. Attitude is a big part of getting one’s visa approved. I swear, consuls can smell the desperation on you.”
Filipinos love going to Paris and Rome. To get to these popular cities, you need a Schengen visa. The Schengen Area covers Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.
With so many countries you can visit with just this one visa, the trick is to choose which country is more open to granting a visa to Filipinos. Kate Alvarez, writer for Smile magazine, says that Italy is the strictest. “When I arrived in Rome, I finally understood why. There were so many Pinoys! I applied through the Netherlands and there were only a few people in line.” Lifestyle writer Kristine Ching agrees. “[Apply through] Netherlands for your tourist visa. There’s no queue and you get your visa in less than a week. Germany is fast, too.”
Other quick tips
Dress appropriately. Mike Aquino says that you should wear a respectable outfit that doesn’t look too contrived. “Nothing too fancy, and, of course, nothing too dressed down! Your clothes send a message about your intentions at the meeting: you want to come off looking like someone they wouldn’t mind taking in, but you don’t want to telegraph your desperation to get in by coming in overdressed.”
Look like your picture. TJ Sulit, director at Game Changer Business Solutions and co-founder of Origins Brazilian JiuJitsu, pointed out a simple but oft-forgotten tip: “For men, be sure to match your facial hair to what is in your passport, to what is in your visa application photo, and to how you are groomed during your personal appearance visa interview. The last thing you want is to have all your documentation in order but having the person processing your application be unsure if you are really the same person in the passport photo because you suddenly come in with a full beard and mustache.” Women should remember this tip, too. While the consul acknowledges that hairstyles can change, don’t wear too much makeup or colored contacts that you don’t look like your passport photo anymore.
Government documents matter. Pay your taxes, people! “Super helpful and legit advice: Prepare your income tax return,” says Evan Tan, co-founder/chief marketing officer of Taxumo, “It’s a good way to prove your financial health.” Land titles, certificate of business registration, and tax returns carry more weight because they’re certified by the government.
Get that US visa. Even if you’re not planning to go to the US, a US visa strengthens the Philippine passport simply because it is the most difficult one to get. If you can nab one, most other countries will grant you quick approvals or even visa-free entry (in Central America and the Caribbean, for example).